21 February 2008 by Published in: Research and Writing 1 comment

J. D. has a post on his blog tonight responding to concerns about how we can turn out a quality book so soon after the publication of Plenty of Blame to Go Around. Some have expressed the concern that our retreat book might not be as good since it’s coming out only 18 months after the publication of POB.

J.D. addressed some of the issues, and I want to add to what he wrote.

First, and foremost, I have always been a prolific writer. I think that my track record speaks for itself along those lines. At the same time, I’ve also made it clear that I don’t particularly enjoy practicing law, and that my writing is my outlet and how I keep my sanity. Immersing myself in my writing is how I decompress from what is a very stressful and not particularly enjoyable job. The fact that I don’t have children makes it possible for me to spend most of my evenings writing when I’m in that mode. If I had kids, I can give you an ironclad guarantee that I would not be anywhere near as productive as I am. Finally, I have a short attention span, so when I get focused on something, I work it until it’s finished. Otherwise, there’s a real possibility that I may never go back to it. That’s how I manage to be as prolific a writer as I am.

At the same time, my work always seems to get good reviews, and a universal theme is the thoroughness of the research. There’s a reason for that: I am a very thorough researcher. Also, I constantly have more than one research project going at any given time. I first started researching the retreat from Gettysburg in 1992, when I began researching an article on John Buford that ultimately appeared in issue 11 of Gettysburg Magazine. I had my first tour of the retreat in 1994–a personal tour given to me by Ted Alexander. I’ve written about aspects of the retreat for years. I published an article on the fight at Monterey Pass in North and South magazine nearly 10 years ago. In short, I researched the retreat for more than 15 years. I have spent many hours on those fields and following the routes both with and without Ted Alexander, who is the dean of all things retreat. I know the terrain as a consequence. This is no Johnny-Come-Lately thing for me.

Here’s the history of this project. We had originally planned to do a volume on the retreat for Ironclad Publishing’s Discovering Civil War America Series. Consequently, four or five years ago, we started writing and eventually completed a 90,000 word manuscript. And then the manuscript just sat while it waited its turn in the production queue.

Once Ted Savas learned what we are capable of producing with POB and I approached him about publishing the retreat study, he jumped at the opportunity. I wasn’t happy with the 90,000 word manuscript, as I thought it didn’t have enough depth and didn’t cover things in the depth or level of detail that I wanted. However, within the parameters of the Discovering Civil War America Series, it had to be that way.

Entering into an agreement with Ted liberated the project. Ted pretty much gave us carte blanche to take the original 90,000 word manuscript and put the detail into it that it deserved. We had additional research to do (more on that in a moment), and then the new material had to be worked into the manuscript. We had about five months in which to get it all done.

Although I have made my vehement opposition to Google’s scanning of copyrighted works known plainly here, I likewise have made my support of Google’s making public domain works available on line well known. Using Google Book Search, Microsoft’s Live Book Search and the online collection at Archive.org made it possible for us to obtain a tremendous amount of primary source material in no time flat, as it was available right there at our collective fingertips. I literally printed out the pertinent pages of hundreds of books, so much so that I blew through a toner cartridge. This saved us months, and perhaps even a year of trying to track down the books to obtain the useful portions.

Once we finished that, it was a function of spending virtually every evening, two and three hours at a time, working diligently on incorporating the new material, such that when we got the final draft to Ted in December, the original 90,000 word manuscript had increased to a 135,000 word manuscript.

That’s how we were able to to produce what Ted Savas tells me will be a 550 page book in what might appear to be a very short period of time, but which really represents the better part of 15 years worth of work on my end. The fact that this book’s bibliography contains more than 800 separate references and that there are more than 1200 end notes to this book should put to rest any concerns about whether we were thorough in our research.

There’s an old cliche about working for years to become an overnight sensation. That description more or less applies to our efforts to put this book project together. I would not permit my name–or my hard-earned reputation–to be sullied by anything but something that I consider to be my best effort. I clearly think that this is the best work I’ve ever done, and I hope you will, too.

Scridb filter


  1. Thu 21st Feb 2008 at 10:45 pm

    Great post Eric.

    It’s definitely not a Johnny-Come-Lately topic for either of us. I and a group of fellows from Penn State took our first tour of the retreat back in 1985 when I was a sophomore, and it was at that time that I fell in love with the Monterey area (specifically the mountain roads) and when we had dinner that night in Williamsport I thought to myself that one day I wanted to know all I could about it. After the battle itself, the retreat was the most fascinating aspect of Gettysburg for me.

    Completing this book and seeing its release is definitely the realization of a dream for the two of us, as well as for Mike. It took us nearly 20 years to getting around to finishing it, but we’ve got that much in study, thought, and effort in it. When we talk to folks about it, I think that passion will come through.


Comments are closed.

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress